car seatThe first step you can take in protecting your children in the car is to buckle them up. Riding unrestrained or improperly restrained in a car is the single greatest risk factor for death and injury for children.

All 50 states require child safety seats, but restraints may vary by age, weight, and height among states. You can find out what each state requires at the Governors Highway Safety Association website.

Here are some tips that will help you keep your tot safe in the car.

When a car seat is correctly installed and used, it can reduce the risk of death for infants by 71% and for toddlers by 54%.

Make sure you have the right car seat for your child's age and size. Each type of seat will have different height and weight recommendations, so it is important to carefully read the product information provided with your car seat. States may vary in their traffic safety regulations as well, so you may want to look up the laws in your state. A certified child passenger (CPS) technician can help with your selection. Visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website to search for a technician in your area.

Another point to consider is your car. Most cars made after 2002 are equipped with the LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) attachment system, which offers additional protection. Check with your car dealer if you have questions.

Types of Car Seats

The following list of provides a general outline for their appropriate use by type of car seat. Keep in mind that the manufacturer's guidelines for each seat can differ even within a particular category of seats:

  • Rear-facing seats (infant seats and rear-facing convertible seats)—The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends rear-facing seats for all children until they reach age two or until they meet the highest height and weight limits for the seat.
  • Front-facing convertible seats and other front-facing car seats—According to the AAP, these seats can be used once a child has outgrown the height and weight limits for the rear-facing seats. There should be a harness used with the front-facing seat.
  • Belt-positioning booster seats—These types of seats allow the child to sit higher up so that the adult seat belt can be used. The AAP recommends that the booster seat is used until the child can fit in a seatbelt without a booster (4 feet, 9 inches [1.45 meters]) and age (8-12 years old).
Proper Use of Car Seats

Once the child has reached the recommended height and age, the regular seat belt can be used. It is important that both the lap and the shoulder belts are properly positioned. In addition:

  • The child should be sitting all the way back in the car's seat.
  • The child’s knees should bend comfortably at the edge of the seat.
  • The shoulder belt should cross at the center of the child's chest and shoulder.
  • The lap belt should fit across the child's upper thigh, not stomach.
  • The child should be able to remain seated comfortably like this for the entire trip.

Children under 13 years of age should still ride in the rear seats of the vehicle.